Thunder Mountain High School students attend a chemistry class on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Thunder Mountain High School students attend a chemistry class on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

School enrollment is lower, almost exactly as expected

Accurate projection helps school district plan budget

Juneau’s school enrollment continues to fall, but figures are almost exactly as much as the school district expected, according to a report the district submitted to the state.

The final reported enrollment, according to Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss’ report to the Board of Education on Tuesday, is 4,632 students. That’s down from 4,679 last year, according to the JSD budget booklet for the 2019 fiscal year.

As Weiss explained in a phone interview Tuesday, the actual enrollment is almost exactly as many students as the district expected. The projection, done annually by local consultant Gregg Erickson, predicted there would be 4,625 students this year.

Figures provided by JSD Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett showed that in the two previous years, enrollment has been difficult to predict. Going into the 2016 school year, there were about 200 more students than projections showed. Going into the 2017 school year, there were about 120 fewer students than were projected.

Weiss has been with the school district since 2014 years as director of student services, and said it’s always better to have enrollment on par with projections.

“We’re always happy when we’re at or a little bit above (projections),” Weiss said. “Way above would be great. It’s more of an impact when it’s under, especially significantly under. We’re very, very happy that we’re just a little above.”

The state provides funding for school districts based on the number of students a school district has, so if a district knows how many students to plan on having, it will have an easier time planning a budget in advance. According to numbers from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development in June, the projected amount of money per student (known as the Base Student Allocation) in the 2019 fiscal year is $5,930.

As a result, Weiss said, these enrollment numbers don’t change much of anything when it comes to budget planning.

Weiss said getting close to projections also helps because then they don’t have to shift staff around too much. She said that if you look closer at this year’s enrollment, the enrollments for elementary and high school were higher than projected while middle school enrollment was a little lower. Though there some minor shifts in staff duties as a result, she said, it wasn’t too extreme.

Erickson wasn’t able to be reached Tuesday, but his method was detailed in the fiscal year 2019 booklet. He forecasts kindergarten students based on live births from five years previously. He adjusts the overall projection based on the state of Juneau’s economy and overall population trends. He adjusts high school enrollments based on a historical analysis for returning students.

JSD paid Erickson about $2,900 to do the projection, Bartlett said. The projections help the district plan for the future. His forecasts go all the way to the 2028 fiscal year, and he projects that enrollment will continue to decline to about 4,150 students in that year.

Weiss is more optimistic for the future, saying that if Juneau’s economy can provide jobs and be attractive to young families, enrollment could turn around. She said she always pitches Juneau as a “unique and dynamic” place to live to prospective staff members, and that staff members who move to Juneau often agree with her.

“I’m very optimistic,” Weiss said. “I think our enrollment’s going to stabilize and we’re going to grow again.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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